Jack Crowe misses the point in his recent comments about the upcoming District 97 referendum ("Cut costs before passing a referendum at D97"), March 16, 2011 Wednesday Journal).
As a third generation Oak Parker, Mr. Crowe should appreciate how Oak Park benefits from having what he admits are the "excellent theatre programs" of BRAVO and CAST. He should know they provide a unique opportunity for kids to develop confidence in themselves and camaraderie with their fellow class mates. The combination of teamwork, dedication, art and sheer fun these programs provide should not be so easily dismissed. Their presence makes Oak Park a special place. Their loss should concern Oak Park parents and all Oak Parkers. Budgets and taxes are important, but funding these programs must take priority.
But to address his points:
Teacher compensation: He says they get paid too much. I say you get what you pay for. I think it's safe to say most Oak Parkers agree District 97 provides at least above average schools and teachers. Good schools are the reason people come here and stay here. Also, there's a national debate ongoing about elevating the qualifications (and salaries) of teachers to help improve education in troubled school districts. We are fortunate Oak Park schools are not so "troubled". They could be improved, like any other school district, but today they do a pretty good job of educating our kids. If you want to reduce your tax bill, move to a school district that pays less, and gets less in return.
Real estate tax bill: Crowe mentions they have doubled over the last 20 years and admits it's due to rising real estate values. But then he seems to put the blame on the schools. Huh? District 97 tax rate has not changed since 1989.
Your tax bill rose because home values rose. Period.
Structural problems: Crowe cites automatic salary increases, health care and pensions that drive up costs. Again, are the schools perfect? No, but as a matter of fact, the district has shown due diligence by cutting its budget steadily for the last nine years. Can more changes be made and costs be brought down? Sure.
So here is the point: vote to keep District 97 fully funded, so it can continue to do great things for all of Oak Park.
Vote Yes on April 5th!